Trump legal team calls impeachment 'dangerous perversion' of constitution in legal brief

Trump legal team calls impeachment 'dangerous perversion' of constitution in legal brief

U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team asserted Monday that he did "absolutely nothing wrong," calling the impeachment case against him flimsy and a "dangerous perversion of the Constitution."

The brief from Trump's lawyers, filed ahead of arguments expected later this week in the Senate impeachment trial, offered the most detailed glimpse of the lines of defence they intend to use against Democratic efforts to convict the president and oust him from office over his dealings with Ukraine. It is meant as a counter to a brief filed two days ago by House Democrats that summarized weeks of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses in laying out the impeachment case.

The 110-page filing from the White House shifted the tone toward a more legal response but still hinged on Trump's assertion he did nothing wrong and did not commit a crime — even though impeachment does not depend on a material violation of law but rather on the more vague definition of "other high crimes and misdemeanours" as established in the constitution.

It says the two articles of impeachment brought against the president — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — don't amount to impeachment offences. It asserts that the impeachment inquiry centred on Trump's request that Ukraine's president open an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden was never about finding the truth.

"Instead, House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way — any way — to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election," Trump's legal team wrote. "All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn."

'Absurdist position'

Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House on Dec. 18 on the two articles of impeachment over pushing Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential contender Biden — whose son sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was U.S. vice-president — as well as a discredited theory about the Democratic National Committee server that was hacked during the 2016 election. Nearly $400 million US in Pentagon-approved aid was withheld from Ukraine, released weeks later only after it emerged a whistleblower complaint had been initiated regarding a July 25 phone call Trump conducted with Ukraine's president.

The prosecution team of House managers was expected to spend another day on Capitol Hill preparing for the trial, which will be under heavy security. Ahead of the filing, House prosecutors arrived on Capitol Hill to tour the Senate chamber. Opening arguments are expected within days following a debate over rules.

The White House brief argues that the articles of impeachment passed by the House are "structurally deficient" because they charge multiple acts, creating "a menu of options" as possible grounds for conviction.

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Trump signalled his opposition to witnesses, tweeting Monday: "They didn't want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!"

That's a reference to former national security adviser John Bolton, who was not subpoenaed by the House in its impeachment inquiry but has said he is willing to testify in the Senate if he is subpoenaed.

The Trump team claims that the constitution requires that senators agree "on the specific basis for conviction" and that there is no way to ensure that the senators agree on which acts are worthy of removal. Senior administration officials argued that similar imprecision in the articles applied to the multi-part article of impeachment for perjury in the Bill Clinton impeachment trial in 1999.

Read the Trump team legal brief

They accused Democrats of diluting the standards for impeachment, an argument that echoed the case made Sunday by one of Trump's attorneys, Alan Dershowitz, who contended on a series of talk shows that impeachable offences must be "criminal-like conduct."

That assertion has been rejected by scholars, and Democrat Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House's intelligence committee, called it an "absurdist position."